Flint, MI – When Porcha Clemons first started dancing, it was an outlet for her. She didn’t have the technique, but she had the passion and the confidence to keep going.
“It was an outlet for me. That’s what helped me build confidence. That’s what helped me realize that I was great at something,” she said. “I will say I wasn’t the best, I didn’t have the technique like everyone else in dance class . . . But the passion that I had is what helped me feel my performance and make me a great dancer.”
Now, 17 years later at age 32, Clemons has worked as a professional dancer and owns her own studio, Heart of Worship, located in the Flint, Mich.
She recently rented a department store hoping to expand the studio which opened in 2018.
Through the years, Heart of Worship has continuously grown and now has 75 students. Clemons said she’s dedicated her life to helping aspiring dancers make their dreams come true but her journey to where she is today has not always been easy.
Her journey with dancing
Clemons started dancing when she was in middle school. As a child, her family couldn’t always afford to pay for lessons at a dance studio. So, she would dance in a class at school. During class, Clemons said she was required to test to show what she’d learned. However, she had a learning disability that sometimes left her struggling to have the confidence to dance for the test.
“I was labeled as having a learning disability and so I just felt like it was stamped on my forehead,” she said. “I was an outcast and just didn’t have…confidence.”
By the time she entered high school, she was starting to see more dance performances. Sheila Miller-Graham, who taught dance at Northwestern High School, where Clemons attended, would bring in dancers from Creative Expressions Dance Studio and show their recitals on television. For Clemons, that was the moment when she realized what dance meant to her and what she wanted to do with her life.
She started training in a dance studio when she was 15. She took ballet, modern, hip hop, jazz, tap and tumbling. But being in a dance studio brought new challenges. Many of her classmates had been dancing in a studio since they were three or four years old, she said.
“They understand what the teacher was saying, you know, and [I was] not always getting picked for parts because I didn’t have the flexibility or the technique that the teacher was looking for in that class,” she said.
Being a professional
By her senior year of high school, Clemons tested out of having to see a social worker at school for her learning disability and was more confident in her abilities.
“Dance has helped heal my confidence and it helped me figure out who I am, you know, more than just these labels that was placed on me,” she said.
When Clemons graduated from high school in 2009, she moved to Tennessee to go to Lane College. While she was there, she learned a lot from the girls she was on the dance team with.
However, she also struggled in her classes because of her learning disability. After a semester, she made the decision in 2010 to come home to Flint. She attended Mott Community College (MCC), but lost financial aid and had to take classes at Baker College for some time. She eventually returned to MCC and received an associate’s degree in media arts entertainment.
She later attended Rochester College, now Rochester University, where she again struggled with classes preventing her from finishing requirements for a bachelor’s degree in communications.
“I felt like I did what was best for me at the time, but I do love where I’m at right now,” she said.
While pursuing college degrees and working through obstacles, she kept dancing and eventually landed a job with the Detroit Mechanix at the Pontiac Silverdome in 2012. She also danced for the Detroit Pride Cheerleaders with the Detroit Lions.
However, for Clemons that was short-lived. She decided to take a step back from professional dancing because it wasn’t grounded in her faith and made her feel uncomfortable.
“I love performing, I just didn’t like being considered as a sex symbol,” she said.
When she danced professionally, she said she would sometimes be part of photoshoots for swimsuit calendars and had unwanted advanced from men.
“You have to have a certain stance or they think they can just touch you and rub on you,” she said.
Because of her experiences dancing professionally, she felt inspired to start Heart of Worship.
“I need to do my own thing . . . something that doesn’t compromise my beliefs, you know, who I am. And so I always wanted to dance to music that’s inspiring, that uplifts people,” she said.
When Clemons started dancing, she said she had friends who were better than her, but couldn’t afford to train at a dance studio.
“That’s another reason I started this studio to teach not just the kids but to teach the families in my community that you have to invest in your kids if you want them to be successful,” she said.
However, she knows that not everyone can afford to invest in dance classes. Right now, 25 of her 75 students go to classes through a grant-funded scholarship. She said she also teaches her students how to fundraise for their classes as well.
“I feel like I’m teaching more than just dance,” she said.
Clemons said she provides scholarships for her students because she doesn’t want kids to give up on their dreams. Instead of just watching dance performances and wishing they had the same opportunity, she wants them to learn how they could land a role or dance professionally in the future.
“I want to be that stepping stone for them,” she said. “We have a lot of working parents, single parents, and instead of them being at home, you know, playing a game or just being in front of the TV, like, they’re here. You know, learning about life skills, they are learning how to work with one another.”
Clemons said she also has students in her class who have learning disabilities. She said she takes extra time with those students, because she understands them and knows that they need it.
“I want them to be inspired when they leave and know that no matter what age you are, you still can accomplish your dreams,” she said.
The studio currently meets in West Court Street Church of God but this June, Clemons said they are going to start meeting in her new space in the Genesee Valley Center in Flint Twp., Mich. She said she personally teaches seven classes right now. She also has a jazz instructor, a ballet instructor and a liturgical instructor.
She said that she wants to also provide a space where Christian families can feel comfortable sending their kids.
“I just believe when it comes to the faith-based community I feel like there’s a lot of people that just want to have a place where they feel like they can go that you know, they feel comfortable,” she said. “They don’t have to question their morals, you know, just be around like-minded people.”
The students at the dance studio also do competitions and recitals throughout the year.
With the new space, Clemons said she also hopes to start dance fitness classes for adults.
Formerly the Lane Bryant Outlet, Clemons said she plans to build walls up throughout the store to have two different studios for classes, as well as an area to host birthday parties. Some existing construction will stay. For example, she plans to keep the dressing rooms and to use the shelving that formerly held women’s clothing to showcase trophies.
On April 3, 2023, people came by the former store and soon-to-be studio to purchase clothing racks left behind by the previous owners. With the money from the clothing racks, Clemons said she plans to buy a sign to go up outside of the studio, where the Lane Bryant Outlet sign currently is.
Since getting the keys to the space on March 1, 2023, she has been there cleaning. She said she chose that particular space because of how big it is. However, she said she has received backlash from friends and family.
“Everyone was like, the mall is dead, you’re crazy,” she said. “But I just believe that it’s going to pick back up. And if I’m able, if I’m the person to revive the area, then so be it.”
Clemons said she still more goals. She wants to start a talk show, act in a movie and perform in gospel concerts.
Through Heart of Worship, she encourages her students to achieve their dreams, while she still works toward hers.